The eleventh Lord Peter Wimsey whodunnit principally starring Harriet Vane, whodunnit author and Lord Peter's lover interest. Harriet goes back to her Oxford College who are experiencing an outbreak of poison pen letters and vandalism. Can Harriet track down the culprit before something serious happens?
It is very much of its time. The women's college is a claustrophobic place where a Senior Common Room of the stuffy Misses endlessly debate whether a woman should be a wife and mother or an academic virgin. The pre-war rules by which they govern the students reflect old-fashioned sexist and puritanical mores. One must wear gowns to Hall and never ever ever bring a man into the college. A period piece.
Meanwhile the male undergraduates are represented as a set of irresponsible fools intent on climbing trees for wagers and driving fast cars and drinking expensive vintages.
The actual crime element takes third place behind the discussions of social and academic values and the on-off romance between Peter and Harriet (sorry! Lord Peter and Miss Vane). As a result, Gaudy Night is rather longer than it ought to be (even allowing for the fact that the Wimsey mysteries are significantly longer, on the whole, than equivalent whodunnits). Furthermore, the actual crimes committed seem trivial and the cast of suspects is long and (given they are all unmarried females) confusing. As a result, this is not as good as the other Lord Peter books.
And there are a couple of fragments written in Greek and one or two Latin quotations ... including a whole four line part that is actually a clue. Does the author really think her readers are fluent in dead languages or is she simply showing off?
Still good though.Some of the best bits:
- "As one grew older, as one established one’s self, one gained a new delight in formality." (C 1)
- "The mouth was the mouth of one who has been generous and repented of generosity; its wide corners were tucked back to give nothing away." (C 1)
- "As any student of literature must, she knew all the sins of the world by name, but it was doubtful whether she recognised them when she met them in real life." (C 1)
- "It was as though a misdemeanour committed by a person she knew was disarmed and disinfected by the contact." (C 1)
- "The fact that one had loved and sinned and suffered and escaped death was of far less ultimate moment than a single footnote in a dim academic journal establishing the priority of a manuscript or restoring a lost iota subscript." (C 1)
- "It’s a matter of a + b, you know. Only there happened to be an unknown factor.’ ‘Like that thing that keeps cropping up in the new kind of physics,’ said the Dean. ‘Planck’s constant, or whatever they call it.’" (C 2)
- "there is no chance assembly of people who cannot make lively conversation about drains" (C 2)
- "Authority as such commands very little respect nowadays, and I expect that is a good thing on the whole, though it makes the work of running any kind of institution more difficult." (C 3)
- "A plough share is a nobler object than a razor. But if your natural talent is for barbering, wouldn’t it be better to be a barber, and a good barber – and use the profits (if you like) to speed the plough?" (C 3)
- "If you’d spent your time washing and cooking for a family and digging potatoes and feeding cattle, you’d know that that kind of thing takes the edge off the razor." (C 3)
- "Haunts of ancient peace were all very well, but very odd things could crawl and creep beneath lichen-covered stones." (C 3)
- "one of the innumerable women with ‘school-teacher’ stamped on their resolutely cheery countenances" (C 3)
- "She had begun to take Wimsey for granted, as one might take dynamite for granted in a munitions factory" (C 4)
- "It’s surprisin’ how few people ever mean anything definite from one year’s end to the other." (C 4)
- "when men put their public lives before their private lives, it causes less outcry than when a woman does the same thing, because women put up with neglect better than men, having been brought up to expect it." (C 9)
- "She resented the way in which he walked in and out of her mind as if it was his own flat." (C 14)
- "he was ready for mischief as a wilderness of monkeys." (C 17)
- "there is only one kind of wisdom that has any social value, and that is the knowledge of one’s own limitations." (C 17)
- "principles have become more dangerous than passions. It’s getting uncommonly easy to kill people in large numbers, and the first thing a principle does – if it really is a principle – is to kill somebody." (C 17)
- "The Universities are always being urged to march in the van of progress. But epic actions are all fought by the rearguard – at Roncevaux and Thermopylæ." (C 17)
- "What is the use of making mistakes if you don’t make use of them?" (C 18)
- "Heroics that don’t come off are the very essence of burlesque." (C 18)
- "as understandable and pleasant as daily bread." (C 23)
- Whose Body in which my Lord and his manservant, Bunter, are introduced
- Clouds of Witness in which Lord Peter must sleuth to get his brother Gerald, Duke of Denver, off a murder charge; Bunter assists; policeman Parker falls in love with Peter's sister Mary
- Unnatural Death which introduces another Wimsey sidekick: Miss Climpson; Bunter is involved
- The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club; Bunter is involved as is Miss Climpson
- Strong Poison which introduces Harriet Vane, a detective writer who becomes Lord Peter's love interest; Bunter realises Lord Peter's affection first
- The Five Red Herrings; Lord Peter in Scotland; Bunter in the background
- Have His Carcase: Harriet and Peter investigate the death of a gigolo with dreams; Bunter has a small supporting role
- Murder Must Advertise: Peter goes undercover at an advertising agency; Bunter plays a very small role; policeman Parker has married Mary and they have sons
- The Nine Tailors: Peter investigates the discovery of a body in someone else's grave in a small fenland village. Floods and campanology.
There are also Wimsey books written since the death of DLS by Jill Paton Walsh. These include:
- The Attenbury Emeralds in which Lord Peter, in 1951, recalls the circumstances of his first case, the Attenbury Emeralds, which have gone missing again.
- The Late Scholar: in which Wimsey returns to Oxford